Home to an array of palaces, Malta possesses a vast and varied heritage. Beneath the baroque spires, crenelated walls and tall belfries, the archipelago’s most impressive estates are stuffed with enough antiques to fill a large museum. Amazingly, many of these grand palaces are still in use by the Maltese government. The Prime Minister has Girgenti Palace and Villa Francia, the Ministry for the Environment has Casa Leone, and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is based in Palazzo Parisio. The most remarkable palaces, however, remain in the President’s hands. Scattered all over the country, here we take a look inside Malta’s most illustrious estates.
Built by a knight of the Order of St John in the scenic town of Attard, San Anton is the official residence of the President, located very close to Corinthia Palace Malta. Visitors love the Chapel of Our Lady of Pilar, which flashes in dozens of golds, oranges, yellows and blues, and contains whirlwinds of playful putti. However, the real show-stopper is the garden. Full of fountains, ponds, ducks, peacocks, roses, araucarias, busts, hedges, citrus trees and even turtles, many a sunny afternoon can be whiled away here. Try to visit the kitchen garden on one of its open-days.
Much more lavish than San Anton, the Grand Master’s Palace functions as the President’s official office. Full of rare artworks, from the fresco cycle that depicts the Great Siege of 1565 to a rare painting of Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Malta, the State Apartments are an incredible sight to behold. Whatever you do, don’t leave without viewing either the Gobelin tapestries or the armoury. The latter is a feast of pageantry, showing everything from European parade armour to deadly Ottoman weapons.
Overlooking Buskett Gardens and surrounded by a quarried ditch, Verdala Palace is the official summer residence of the President. Throughout its tall halls, guests may spot chessboards carved into the stone by bored French officers (imprisoned there during a Royal Navy blockade), as well as macabre torture chambers in the bastioned towers. Outside, it’s obvious that the palace’s milestone has been lopped off. Allies mutilated it during WWII in the hope that the Germans would get hopelessly lost when trying to conquer the island.
Whilst not technically a presidential pad, Palazzo Parisio was once Napoleon’s residence and now houses Malta’s Foreign Office. It didn’t always have such a grand history, however. Once tenanted by almost a hundred people, before becoming a Post Office, (complete with a ground-floor livery), it’s incredible that so much of its neoclassical beauty survives. Highlights include the flamboyant Ball Room, solid marble staircase, the Cippi of Melquart (a Phoenician god), the gilt opulence of the Music Room, and oil paintings by the Maltese master, Mattia Preti, which are older than the palace itself.